Body by Body at Important Projects

originally published with ilikethisart

After downloading source material from mediafire, listening to a motivational mp3, seeing installation pictures, and playing in an interactive 3D recreation of their current exhibition at Important Projects in Oakland, it seems no surprise to me that Body by Body were “[attempting] to ‘smear’ the exhibition out over time.” Through the multiple layers of engagement and several avenues for participation, Body By Body (otherwise known as Melissa Sachs and Cameron Soren) invest a great deal in developing lasting dialogs that can be sustained beyond the initial “hype” that goes along with the physical manifestation of work that primarily exists through networked exchange. As a result the pieces on display from October 29th to December 3rd take on the form of traditional gallery objects that serve as metaphorical placement holders. The allegorical “paintings” and “video” – speaking very loosely – create a bridge between the expectations of differing art communities that exists online, offline, and somewhere in between. The tension built from attempting to navigate these zones of production and distribution become focal points of criticism of attention. Each venue, be it digital or analog, acts as a comment on the other. The bouncing back and forth between these arenas creates a subtle reflection on the properties and materials that each field provides.

What Body by Body is skilled at showing is how the striking similarities between mediums are more interesting limitations to work through than around. The work accomplishes this by employing the rhetoric of an art gallery and deviantART in equal parts as a platform to question the ways in which communities and dialogs are generated dependent on, or a result of, the infrastructure from which they emerge. When viewing the work, one begins to see how context seems essential in determining the value and success of a work, since context regulates so much of the vernacular applicable for judgement or appreciation. The more one looks, the more one observes how Body by Body play within these various idioms to pose questions about the efficacy of standards or quality in art and culture.

In one particular work, a slideshow of superimposed hyper-realist sculptures aimless float in hyper-render RAY-traced fractal drawings that play on a carelessly hung consumer-grade flatscreen. The precarious installation, combined with the purposefully casual juxtaposition of high and low, question how artists define craft and skill when moving between creative/cultural platforms of distribution. Instead of prioritizing one condition over another, all methods not only seem even but necessary. One begins to see what is initially considered impromptu or accidental is instead essential and deliberate. When this knowledge starts to sink in, the otherwise immediate joke quality of blank canvasses and work made for a keychain wears off and a more sophisticated complex motivation takes its place. In other words, the work should not be judge on aesthetic, or scale, or even on quality of installation, but instead should be measured by a metric bound to the ways in which our traditional expectations dictate so much of our formulaic reading of art.

An underlying question then emerges: how can an artist immersed in the language of critical theory and fan-based image making find middle ground for both contexts to coexist? For Body by Body, the answer seems to reside in how they use their own pseudonym as a self-reflexive means to an end; a way of displacing the pressure, anxiety, and commitment to something singular and univocal. Opting for an alias, Body by Body conjure an ironically disembodied and artificial identity as another layer of abstraction to operate within. This is not to say that any more “layers” are particularly needed to prove any specific point, but the overuse the Body by Body brand reinforces a (self) parody at play throughout the show. This purposeful distance of personality – combined with the ongoing investigation of how the conventional reading of art applied to emerging fields often overlooks content – grounds the initially humble-looking show into a more cultivated dialog that extends well beyond the walls of the gallery.

B@S: Some Qs without As with remixthebook author Mark Amerika

Mark Amerika and I corresponded over the past several weeks while he has been jet-setting over the western hemisphere promoting and sharing ideas behind his recent University of Minnesota Press publication remixthebook. We discuss below, in a univocal, non-hierarchic, feedback looped way some of the tenants and relevancies of remix to post-studio/post-production art practices. I’m especially keen on the blurred lines of authorship that we have undergone as a result of wanting to continue the conversation Amerika puts forth in his writing. Our effort to synthesize voices in relation to our individual perspectives on remix act as a performance of identity that often gets manifested through the mechanisms of social media and networked culture. The repartee below offers a stream-of-consciousness glimpse into a perpetual state of curiosity and subversion of the self that remixthebook confronts, wrestles, and plays with.

This interview came at a timely moment as well since I acted as a micro-blogger-in-residence for the remixthebook twitter feed. I’ve also put some thoughts down about remix in relation to my own visual/creative practice for the publication’s blog.

Why is remix relevant for you right now? I mean, if we look at the history of remix, do we not see a diversity of methods that are employed across a wide range of practices and disciplines, everything from Cubist collage to Rauschenberg’s combines, to the cut-up technique of Brion Gysin and William Burroughs, to Situationist détournement, OULIPO styled proceduralism, appropriation, DJ/VJ culture, plunderphonics, codework, what Bourriaud refers to as “postproduction art,” and of course the whole mashup scene on the Internet and beyond? Do not all art methods at some point relate back to what you call remix? Isn’t it almost like asking what does it mean to dream? Because in a very real sense, navigating through remixthebook, which is both a print book AND a work of conceptual performance art AND a website composed primarily of other artists and writers sampling source material from your writing and postproducing it into new iterations of performance theory, the question you seem to be asking is what is NOT remix? And if EVERYTHING is remix, would it not be the job of the contemporary artist to take what media culture has made common, in this case the act of remixing our identities for us, and destroy it from within? Or is that reading into it too much? Perhaps it’s too romantic a notion, one that once again positions the artist as a cultural outsider and what we really need to do is to investigate how remix opens up The Total Work as a collaborative, ritualistic daily practice? What would a remix of the Gesamtkunstwerk look like? How would this collaborative ritual of remixing everyday life, something that de Certeau addresses in a slightly different way, be situated inside the history of the avant-garde? In remixthebook the idea of an artistic and literary avant-garde almost disappears since everyone is doing it which then challenges the 2.0 crowd to ask ourselves can a vanguard art scene even exist in social networking culture? Perhaps we need to look at the various contemporary approaches toward what Duchamp refers to as The Creative Act — but that you see as The Act of Remix — and put them in their proper cultural context? In this regard, maybe what you’re doing is turning theory into a social media art practice that has its roots in conceptualism but is really not that either because of the way you confuse or problematize this whole issue with the body? That part in the book about the legendary Bruce Lee, and his book Artist of Life, and his take on Gestalt Therapy? I guess you see him as remixologist too? Didn’t he Chop and Screw? That brings up another important question: which remixologists are influential for your own practice? Or is it even necessary for artists to address that question? I’m thinking here specifically of that passage in the book where you write about how “we don’t even need to be aware of our past influences … they reside in the body like second or third or fourth nature / something that enables us to play ourselves without having to think about it”? I also wonder how this book, if we can even call it a book, especially since so much of the content is created by others on the remixthebook.com website, situates itself between the “trickle-down” of high-art and the “bubbling-up” of low-art? Obviously this dichotomy cannot sustain itself any longer, but is there a location within that spectrum that you’ve decided to build an outpost in? You say that these influences from the bodies of work postproduced by others are IN you in a way you have no control over and that it’s really a matter of mirroring neurons which is an interesting use of neuroscience because I know that in your recent keynote at that big symposium in Rio de Janeiro you were trying to suggest that this relational agency that makes daily remix practice even possible, on a base creative level, or a biological level, also takes place in social networking culture too, and that we are just now learning how to show empathy or respond to the “actionary” agenda of the others we engage with while on the Internet, yes? Because this intersubjective jamming among the digital personae who play themselves on the Net is also a kind of social or emotionally engaged remix, right? And of course this intersubjective jamming is not limited strictly to the social networking protocols of the online junkies getting their next hypermediated fix, in fact — where is the Net in our everyday physical performance of self? How have we augmented ourselves to a point where the biological self can be irrelevant to establishing creative identity? The word you use is copoietic, which I think you sample from Bracha Ettinger, yes? You seem to be asking how we might consider the historical trajectory of various remix-related art practices themselves as source material to reinvent what it means to a social agent, but to do it as part of some ritualistic, boundary-blurring art/life practice where the social networker exhibits their performance art in the field of digital distribution, right? I guess a question all artists, those who identify as such and not, would be how does remix infiltrate your work? If we can assume that are creatively invested in acts of perpetual postproduction, then when does the ingenuity or initiation of a mix start and end? When does the metaphorical record change, the cross fader cut, the midi-controller nob turn, the splice interrupt, the click trigger? Can language even do this subject any justice? What other metaphors can be used to discuss remix that don’t rely on the rhetoric of the turntable or sound engineering console? Because in the book you suggest that we are always sampling from the Source Material Everywhere and yet this also then brings up the question about whether anything is outside the boundaries of being considered remix? Can we ever just wake up and consider ourselves off the remix grid? Especially given the fact that when the grid is encroaching upon biological realization, how does one unplug? Or is it a permanent condition that we’re wired to deal with as part of a this daily, ritualized practice, i.e. the so-called practice of everyday life? It’s as if we can never get away from it … for example, could not this dialogue we’re having right now also be a remix? The language is so fluid and malleable on the screen either one of us could be typing these words, no? Isn’t language, as the foundation of technological society, already a hack, a remix, a short-circuit of our biological selves into virtual experience? This makes me wonder: how do collaborations influence remix? And also, how can young artists continue to engage in radical transparency without forsaking their identity being consumed by mass culture? That may seem out of the blue, but if you think about it, given all of the data mining and how Google and Facebook now pretty much OWN our data which they would love to monetize without us even knowing it, I guess what you’re saying is it’s up to the remixologist to creatively intervene in their own identity construction and the best way to do that these days is to actively manipulate their data into a simultaneously and continuously shifting version of themselves? This would then be a kind of conceptual performance art project, yes? A post-studio, post-personae creative research practice? And a metafictional process too, right? Aren’t you suggesting that by manipulating the metadata that informs our online identity we need to convert the act of remix into a kind of auto-fictionalization process that morphs identity at will? But would that not do a disservice to any potentially genuine forms of communication? Two-wrongs make a right? Would physical, non-screen, remixes help mediate the tension of the over-performance of self as a shape-shifting fiction-in-the-making? Maybe we could read remixthebook as another one of your fictions? Like your novels? What’s the difference? Is it all part of the same remix of an impermanent state of being? But can we get back to network culture specifically? Because I’m curious, can we distinguish network culture as an aside or subset of (mass) culture? How is network culture providing the context for auto-remixology? How does identity get remixed through the variable contexts of network culture? How do we develop versions of ourselves – alpha, open/closed beta, release candidates, RTM, General Availability, sustained support, End-of-life (all terms borrowed from the software industry) – based on a combination of personal drama and creative meta-fiction? Are you suggesting that we can literally immerse ourselves in actionary (to sample Paul Miller’s phrase), practice-based art research that borrows from appropriation and remix and postproduction art and out of this immersion build a performance personae that has its ancestral roots in the lineage of canonized art history? And what about narrative? Or else furthering the “progress-march” of the canon? In its written form, remixthebook is really about storytelling, yes? Is creating a narrative of remix – historically speaking – important for remixologists? How do we circumnavigate that linearity? Or is it not really about linearity at all but a kind of simultaneous and continuous fusion of the moments that were never meant to be but get documented as a formal trace left behind nonetheless and that we then are trained to read as narrative? How do we avoid the “old-trappings” of making contemporary art that looks too familiar as contemporary art? How do we borrow from art history without romanticizing it? This begs even more questions: how does time effect/affect a remix? How does space effect/affect a remix? What are the physical limitations of remix, if there are any? Or else how does a remixologist play between their activities and performances on or within the screen and in physical manifestations? You must have had this feeling of co-existing in different mediated and embodied spaces while performing your live VJ sets around the world, yes? But even so, ARE there boundaries and limitations to remix? What are some of the fundamental foundations for a successful remix? Do remixologists even need to be concerned with success per se and what would the criteria for a successful remix be? Who determines what does and doesn’t have value as a form of remix art? And finally, what does remix have to do with craft? Or even better, what does craft have to do with remix? And when did remix “come to you?” Or, as you suggest in META/DATA, your prior book of contemporary art theory, are we actually all born remixers?

Quote from Vito Campanelli’s interview w/ Geert Lovink

As for students, they seem to me mainly oriented to use the more various objects (PC,digital devices, books, etc…) and not inclined to ask themselves questions about the things they are using. They use them without asking themselves where they come from or which valences they express over the function of use, or even, which evolutionary paths they design? This attitude is probably the fruit of the ruling consumerism that represents, de facto, the only historical reality that new generations know first hand.

source (found on Greg J. Smith’s serial consign)

Definitely agree with this sentiment in teaching theory related classes, not as pervasive a sentiment in studio sections though. Super glad to have seen/read this since it is a superb distinction being made about critical thinking about contemporary network technology.